CHARLOTTE – During Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoff win over Seattle, the Panthers' first play of the game was their biggest play of the game.
Running back Jonathan Stewart burst through the middle for a 59-yard gain – the longest run against the top-ranked Seattle rush defense all season.
"There were some great efforts on that play," head coach Ron Rivera said Monday. "I thought the initial surge we made from the left side of the offensive line sealed down the inside."
Seattle defensive tackle Brandon Mebane penetrated the line and his presence actually stopped Stewart's momentum three yards behind the line of scrimmage. But center Ryan Kalil and fullback Mike Tolbert, who then knocked back linebacker K.J. Wright, combined to keep Stewart clean.
Once Stewart crossed the line of scrimmage, guard Andrew Norwell paved the way for the Pro Bowl runner to turn a solid play into a spectacular one.
"Norwell actually threw three blocks on that play," Rivera said. "He worked off of his double to the next level, bumped the linebacker and went into the (cornerback)."
Norwell first got a piece of defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin. Then he got to the next level and blocked middle linebacker Bobby Wagner before blocking cornerback DeShawn Shead.
Was that the best play of Norwell's young NFL career?
"It's one of them," Norwell said. "It just happened that way. Guys fell in my lap, and I just blocked them up."
The Panthers' offensive coaches couldn't have envisioned a better start after zeroing in on that play early in the week of planning.
"We prepared all week for it," Norwell said. "(Offensive coordinator Mike) Shula and (offensive line coach John) Matsko thought it was going to be a great opener. We went with it, and ended up having an explosive play.
"We set the tempo on offense as an offensive line. We started the game off right."